With summer behind us and players gearing up for camps all across North America, the start of the 2013-14 season is right around the corner. Thus, it’s time once again for our annual pre-season ranking of the LA Kings Top 10 Prospects.
Two years ago, Martin Jones topped the organization’s list, riding high after following up his performance as the 2009-10 WHL Goaltender of the Year with a stellar rookie season in the AHL. At the time, he looked every bit the part of being ‘the real deal,’ only to see his stock slide to number six just 16 months later. Now, he finds himself out of the top 10 after, essentially, two erratic years with the Manchester Monarchs.
Going back to the 2011 pre-season rankings again though, we had Jake Muzzin slotted number two overall and Tyler Toffoli right behind him in third. They also held positions one and three on the 2013 mid-season rankings – published just prior to the NHL Lockout ending in January of this year. Soon after, they both went on to secure roster spots with the Kings. So, their ‘graduation’ from this list, coupled with continually strong drafting and development from GM Dean Lombardi and his staff, has resulted in some major shake-ups to the pre-season rankings… including a new number one overall.
Before reading the list, it’s always worthwhile to note the criteria used in formulating our rankings. Put simply, they’re based on overall value. Said differently, all things being equal, which player would you have to have if you were another GM looking to swing a deal? This takes into consideration – but is not limited to – things such as age, skill set, attitude, readiness for the NHL and overall upside. Although the final slotting of players was determined solely by MayorsManor, the process has intentionally been influenced by opinions shared via ongoing conversations with hockey executives, coaches, scouts and even players.
Per the norm, we’ll count down to the top prospect in reverse order, staring with numbers six through 10 here – and then have the top five posted in a separate article later today.
MAYOR’S MANOR PROSPECT RANKINGS
HONORABLE MENTION – Let’s actually start with a player who just missed cracking the list, left wing Michael Mersch. Some could argue he deserves to be ranked, and valid points can easily be made in that direction. The 6-foot-2 forward has steadily improved his production over three years at the University of Wisconsin. After long deliberation this summer, he decided it was best to play one more year with the Badgers before turning pro next summer. In his case, that may be the best thing for his development. On the plus side, he has an exceptional shot that was on par with the Manchester players at July’s Development Camp. He also plays a disciplined two-way game, is strong on the boards and has noticeable hand-eye coordination. However, he can appear heavy-footed at times with just average speed. For his senior campaign he’ll once again be a featured part of the Badgers’ offense under head coach Mike Eaves and assistant coach (and former King) Gary Shuchuk. Last year he posted 23 goals in 42 games. Expect more this season.
10. Valentin Zykov (LW) – It’s rare for a newly drafted forward to crack the Top 10 Rankings simply because scoring a ton of goals at the junior level doesn’t always translate into being a top-six player in the NHL – just ask Brad Richardson (who once outscored teammate Bobby Ryan in the OHL and nobody would argue which player is most likely to find the back of the net more often this season). Zykov is the exception because he looks to be just that good. After a tough year in the MHL, Russia’s equivalent of the CHL, Valentin spent his draft year playing for Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL. He went on to win the CHL Rookie of the Year award over the likes of several other big-name prospects, like Seth Jones. When he slipped to number 37 at the 2013 NHL Draft, Lombardi traded up to snatch him. If there was a checklist of traits the Kings’ brass likes in their prospects, Zykov hits nearly all of them – he can play both wings, shows a willingness to engage in the physical side of the game, has a good work ethic, scores goals and shows good puck possession skills. In isolation, at Dev Camp, there wasn’t really a particular skill that looked exceptional for an 18-year-old player (and that may be part of the reason he fell a little at the Draft). However, in the scrimmage he scored a goal using hockey instincts comparable to Tyler Toffoli’s at the same age. Like many young players, he needs to work on his skating. Between losing an edge more than any other player, he didn’t generate a lot of speed or accelerate very well. Coaching and experience should improve his deficiencies. It isn’t out of the question that Zykov could eventually develop into a first line talent one day, capable of scoring 30 goals.
9. Brandon Kozun (RW) – Even with a strong crop of prospects continually being added to the Kings’ pool of players, there’s simply no denying Kozun’s offensive ability. Bigger, stronger, faster players have joined the group over the past three years, yet he’s shown remarkable consistency, posting 23, 20 and 26 goals respectively. That’s no easy feat for a player who is used to having the puck on his stick in junior hockey (see his back-to-back 100+ point seasons in the WHL), and then was forced to become a responsible two-way player at the next level. Despite his skill and size, Kozun has routinely been put in a secondary position with the Monarchs, yet always finds a way to shine. Perhaps most impressive are his career numbers last year on a Manchester team built around a top line of Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey. Nit pick his game to death all you want, but at the end of the day, he scores. We’ve said it many times, to be an NHL player at 5-foot-8 you either need to be nasty like Theo Fleury or a sniper like Mike Cammalleri. Kozun has just enough of a mean streak to lean towards the former (Fleury agreed in a MayorsManor interview here). This will no doubt be a critical camp for him, as he’s out of options. In order for the Kings to assign him back to Manchester, he’ll need to clear waivers. With at least one Eastern Conference team already known to think highly of him, he’s not likely to be in the AHL come October.
8. Nick Deslauriers (D) – It’s probably best to borrow a line from our mid-season rankings in January: If you could somehow merge Matt Greene’s mean streak with the grace of Alec Martinez, you’d probably end up with Nick Deslauriers. The stocky blueliner is listed at 6-foot-1 and is every part of the 230 pounds reported. For every crushing blow he delivers on the ice he can make a highlight reel play with the puck. The skills are there. Most in the organization are just waiting for him to put it all together and demonstrate some consistency. Don’t be surprised if at 22 years old – and in the final year of his Entry Level Contract – Deslauriers finally has that breakout year. If not now, it’s doubtful to happen in future years.
7. Maxim Kitsyn (LW) – Finally…as in FINALLY!…Kitsyn has returned to North America. Once thought to be a potential late round steal from the 2010 Draft, the 6-foot-3 left wing had nearly fallen off of everybody’s radar the past two years while he had been playing out a previous contract in Russia. The moment he was available to sign earlier this summer, he inked a new three-year Entry Level Contract with the Kings. In between being drafted by LA and his return for Dev Camp in July, Kitsyn also played for the motherland’s World Junior team and had a brief stint with the Mississauga Majors of the OHL, where he was nearly a point-per-game player. More importantly, Kitsyn showed that his game could translate to the North American style of play. He uses his big body to go to the net and has hands to finish off the garbage goals in front. Additionally, his work ethic is said to be above average for his age. He doesn’t hide the fact that he wants nothing more than to play in the NHL and will do anything to make that dream come true. At Dev Camp he displayed top-of-the-class stick handling and puck control skills, and simultaneously didn’t show a habit of overplaying the puck or hanging onto it too long. He can get some very good shots off, although with an average release, and creates scoring opportunities for both himself and for his linemates. He’s expected to start the year in Manchester, but given the Kings lack of offense from the left side, he has an outside chance of making the big club out of camp.
6. Derek Forbort (D) – The sky isn’t falling, but Forbort’s stock is slightly down. Several months ago, one Kings executive noted to MayorsManor that Kevin Gravel had closed the gap, but probably hadn’t passed Forbort on the depth chart just yet. We’re going to go ahead and complete the leapfrog right now though. When Lombardi moved up to select Forbort in the first round of the 2010 Draft, words like ‘project’ and ‘potential’ were thrown around quite often. Now, after three years at the University of North Dakota, he’s a pro hockey player and is expected to play in Manchester this season. Once looked upon as a future top-pair shut down defenseman, his upside may end up being more of a second pair guy. At a hulking 6-foot-5, his balance and footwork have improved, but are still a concern at times. He can generate some weight behind his slap shots when he takes them, but they are few and far between. His puck handling skills remain a work in progress and have been an admitted weakness in the past. Conversely, he reads the ice well, especially compared to players of similar age and experience. Forbort also makes good decisions with puck distribution, often leading to good opportunities for his teammates. There’s no need to rush his timetable and it’s way too early to call the pick a bust, a la Thomas Hickey. However, he’ll need to take a noticeable step with the Monarchs to avoid slipping further down the list.
POSITIONS 1-5 ARE AVAIALBLE IN THE SECOND HALF OF THIS ARTICLE, CLICK HERE NOW TO VIEW.
David Hofreiter and Andy Tonge also contributed comments in the preparation of this article.
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